Living with a Tween is hard–almost as hard as being a Tween. (While the definition of the term varies, for this post I consider Tweens to be 10-14 years of age.)
It’s an explosive combination of hormones, life changes, and lack of experience with just a dash of adulthood, and two scoops of “I-know-better-than-you” thrown in for good measure. It’s an age where kids can be completely unpredictable in a sometimes-wonderful sort of way. Emotions change from moment to moment, like someone’s channel surfing through their fragile psyche. And the expression of those emotions? Larger than the moment and not always fitting to the circumstances.
It kind of reminds me of pregnancy! Remember when what to make for dinner was a question too big to contemplate without free-flowing tears and sobbing? Or dropping something on the floor caused rage worthy of a cage fight? Think about it: we know how they feel!
While chocolate ice cream and a timely pedicure eased my temperamental self through 9 months (or 10) of gestation, might I suggest some alternate ideas to help steer our awesome and ever-changing Tweens into smoother waters?
Talk about “touchy” subjects while doing something else. Driving is one of my favorite times to ask about friends from school, off-handed comments that I overheard, and address frustrations that would surely get an eye-roll and glazed-over look face-to-face. Washing dishes, folding clothes or doing other chores together is another avenue for non-eye-contact conversation. When you are together with no hurried timeline, the quiet combined with busyness can be a fabulous gateway for your child to talk unprovoked and for you to merely listen intently.
Become a storyteller. Everyone loves a good story. Sharing stories about your own life and struggles can set up conversation about their lives and struggles in a way that is non-confrontational and pressure-free. Tell real stories with names and details about being bullied or teased as a kid at school. Tell them about that time you had a moral dilemma to tell the truth or not to cheat.
This does three things: First, it normalizes the struggle and let’s them know they are not the only one experiencing this hardship–if you can survive it, maybe they can, too! Secondly, it gives you credibility–they might realize that you actually understand what it is like and how they feel although they may NEVER admit it. Thirdly, it takes the focus (and often the pressure) off of them and puts it on you. And as you recount the tales of your growing up, it might also bring you some valuable insight into their actions, thoughts, and reactions.
Do your best to remove your emotions from the situation. Realize it’s not personal, it’s hormones. Find your resolve and help them ride that crazy-juice-wave safely to shore. Listen. Show compassion. And as much as you want to ask them (repeatedly) how they are feeling, resist the urge. The answer to that question is often just as much a mystery to them as it is to you.
Show trust wherever and whenever you can. Give your Tween new challenges and privileges. Pumping gas, mowing the lawn, starting the car…. All these can communicate that you see they are growing up and recognize that seed of maturity starting to sprout. Put them in safe decision-making situations. Have them make the vegetable for dinner. Choosing what to put in the salad and what dressing the family will use can help them feel entrusted and accomplished with decisions that affect more than themselves.
Keep important boundaries firm. They need boundaries now as much as they ever did. It’s hard to do, and you may feel like a jerk, but lovingly and ever-so-patiently hold that line long and hard on the things that truly matter. Teach them to keep their word, to finish the job, and to always do their best. Following instructions and practicing immediate obedience is not only a life skill, but it breeds respect in our children that translates into listening to teachers, and eventually a supervisor at their chosen employment. Please don’t rob your kids of the opportunity to grow by making things extra easy on them. I know this makes it harder on you, Mama, but the investment in their character is worth all the tears, struggle, and persistence that good boundaries require.
It’s time to admit that Tweens are people, too! They are complex creatures for sure. But they will also surprise you with such glittering developmental accomplishments that it will leave you beaming with pride—care-taking of a younger sibling, thoughtfulness of holding doors for others, understanding (and cracking) jokes with witty content. Friends, can we stop seeing adolescence as a sickness to be avoided or a disease in need of eradication? Let’s choose to see it in a more positive light. How about an uncharted and mysterious journey towards growth for them and for us—one that will in the end teach us all to be more kind, more forgiving, and more understanding of what course others are on.
So Mama, go love on your Tween. Enjoy what you can, laugh off (privately) what you don’t understand, and show them you are ready to help them get where they are going, no matter how many circles that lifeboat takes on the way to it’s final destination of maturity.